IAFF Scores Major Victories Despite Gridlock
January 14, 2013 -- While political pundits are
lamenting the gridlock that dominated the recently adjourned 112th Congress, the
IAFF is celebrating a string of legislative accomplishments in the closing days
of the session.
In a Congress that set new records for ineffectiveness – enacting the fewest
laws, working the least number of days and failing to address the most
significant problems facing the nation – the IAFF was able to reauthorize the
Assistance to Firefighters (FIRE Act) and Staffing for Adquate Fire and
Emergency Response (SAFER) grant programs, establish a new fire fighter safety
program, protect the ability of fire fighters to run for political office and
expand the Public Safety Officers Benefit (PSOB). And, the IAFF accomplished all
of these important initiatives during the chaotic environment of the
post-election Lame Duck session.
“Once again this IAFF demonstrated that our bipartisan, pragmatic approach
produces meaningful results for the nation’s professional fire fighters,” says
IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger. “While partisan battles blocked the
agenda of most other groups, this IAFF successfully navigated even the most
In addition to enacting important new initiatives, the IAFF also blocked
proposals harmful to fire fighters during congressional negotiations over the
so-called “fiscal cliff” (see box). Many of these attacks are likely to return
in the new 113th Congress as the need for deficit reduction continues to be the
overarching priority facing the nation.
“We will need to once again bring our A-Game to Capitol Hill this year,” says
Schaitberger. “And the continued support of our allies in both parties will be
necessary to fight back against proposals to balance the budget on the backs of
SAFER Reauthorization Secures Funding for Staffing
No law enacted in the 112th Congress was as important for professional fire
fighters as the reauthorization of the SAFER program. Over the past 10 years,
SAFER has provided billions of dollars to hire additional fire fighters. And,
since the onset of the Great Recession, the SAFER program has enabled
communities to rehire thousands of laid-off fire fighters and prevent additional
For the past four years, the program has worked only because the IAFF has been
able to secure waivers from many of the law’s requirements. The reauthorization
that was enacted in December makes many of these waivers permanent. In addition,
the new law simplifies the local matching requirement to make it easier for fire
departments to apply for grants and removes the salary cap.
The same law also improves FIRE grants. Among the important changes is a
significant increase in the size of grants, with the nation’s largest
jurisdictions able to receive up to $9 million per year. The new law also
decreases the local matching requirement which will enable struggling
communities to receive federal assistance to purchase training and equipment.
The legislation reauthorizing the FIRE Act and SAFER grant programs overcame
numerous obstacles over its four-year odyssey. The House of Representatives
passed the legislation in 2009, but the Senate was stymied by the opposition of
Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), who argued that the entire program was
unconstitutional. To surmount Coburn’s threatened filibuster, the IAFF worked
closely with Senators Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Susan Collins (R-ME) to negotiate
a compromise that enabled the bill to move forward.
Safety Standards Promoted
Another important law enacted during the Lame Duck session of Congress was the
Fire Fighter Fatality Reduction Act (see guest column from Senator Sherrod Brown
(D-OH) on page XX). This new program will examine whether fire departments are
complying with national consensus safety standards, including NFPA standards for
staffing levels and protective gear and equipment.
A task force created by the law and staffed by representatives of national fire
service organizations will explore ways to encourage fire departments to comply
with standards that protect fire fighter health and safety. Representative Ed
Perlmutter (D-CO) and Senator Sherrod Brown had originally introduced the Fire
Fighter Fatality Reduction Act as a free-standing bill four years ago, and they
worked closely with the IAFF to ensure the legislation made it into law.
Hatch Act Amended
Working with the bipartisan team of Senator Dan Akaka (D-HI) and Representative
Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), the IAFF secured passage of legislation repealing a
federal law that prohibits fire fighters from running for political office if
their employer received federal funds. The Hatch Act bars political activity by
federal workers, but one provision extends this restriction to state and local
government employees whose jobs involve duties that are funded with federal
grants, including the FIRE Act and SAFER grant programs.
While some fire fighters will remain covered by similar state restrictions,
often referred to as “mini-Hatch Acts,” municipal fire fighters will no longer
be barred from seeking office under federal law.
Also enacted during the Lame Duck session was an important expansion of the
Public Safety Officers Benefit program. Previously, families of fire fighters
who die from heart attacks and strokes were eligible to receive the PSOB, but
the Department of Justice narrowly interpreted that language and excluded deaths
caused by aneurysms. The new law, which was championed by Senator Pat Leahy
(D-VT), expands the definition of cardiovascular disease to include vascular
ruptures caused by aneurysms.
Summing up the 112th Congress, IAFF Assistant to the General President Kevin
O’Connor calls it “the most chaotic and contentious legislative session I have
ever witnessed.” But he adds, “Our success in the final days proves just how
much can be accomplished when you are willing to put politics aside. Even in the
midst of partisan warfare, we lobby not as Democrats or Republicans, but as fire